Reporting California Elder Financial Abuses: Civil Matters, Criminal Matters Or Both?
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Civil, criminal or both?
J. Niley Dorit, a California attorney whose practice represents those injured by financial abuse, says that these cases can encompass both. He explained:
There are parallel government agencies, including consumer fraud departments at the District Attorneys offices throughout California that investigate these cases. They can, and do, bring criminal prosecutions under criminal statutes for some of the same conduct that can also end up being the basis of a civil, that is non-criminal, financial elder abuse case.
So yes, there definitely are criminal prosecutions that happen over these cases. Those are obviously in the most severe and egregious situations, but not many civil cases rise to that level. My office primarily handles the civil end. The criminal end is done by the state. However, there can be quite a bit of overlap in terms of both state prosecution and private civil cases.
Are punitive damages available?
Possibly, according to Dorit, who told us that elders get special protection under the law and they may be able to collect punitive damages and attorneys' fees. He explained that one of the scenarios that he often sees involves trust funds. He explained:
Maybe its their pension fund, maybe theyve put money in trust or maybe the familys put some money in trust and the elder essentially relies upon the trustee to do the right thing. Yet, unbeknownst to the elder, the trustee is either spending the money on themselves or taking the money and using it as collateral for risky investments, each of which is highly improper.
However, the elder may not know thats going on until one or two years later when they realize that $10,000, $50,000 or $500,000 is missing from their trust. In that kind of a trust relationship, there are circumstances where you see an abuse of the money by the trustee and its tantamount to stealing from an elder.
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